By Jason A. Smith
Thanksgiving Day is a time for family, fun and food. As the big day approaches and families prepare to partake of turkey, dressing and all the fixings, fire officials are emphasizing the need for safety for anyone considering frying their holiday birds.
Capt. Steve Morgan is the interim fire chief of the McDonough Fire Department. He says although the city has not been the site of many fires related to people using turkey fryers for Thanksgiving, turkey fryers continue to represent a "known hazard" across the U.S.
"The hazard is so great that one of the nation's leading industries, who put labels on various products, Underwriters Laboratories Inc., has refused to put their label on any turkey fryer," says Morgan.
"Most [fryers] have no thermostat control. Once you turn one on, the grease just keeps heating up. When it reaches a certain temperature, it will actually flash and catch on fire."
The captain cites a number of factors which can result in a dangerous situation involving turkey fryers. Those factors include spillage from grease as it travels near an open flame, and dropping a frozen turkey into hot grease.
Another aspect of turkey frying of which Morgan says residents should be mindful, is where they choose to cook the meat. He says making the wrong decision can turn a festive occasion into a disaster.
"People have been known to fry a turkey in their carports," he continues. "You should at least be 20 feet away from any structure when frying, and using a level surface. There have been a lot of cases where fryers have actually tipped over. With children running around near an open fire, it's always dangerous."
Morgan also discourages frying a turkey near a wooden deck or garage, and says the task should always be performed on a level surface. The purpose in doing so, he adds, is to protect oneself against being burned by the "top-heavy" bird. "You also have to think about the poundage of the turkey you're putting into the fryer, and the [ratio] of grease to weight," says Morgan. "Naturally, if you're pretty full to the top with grease, and you add a 20-pound turkey, it's going to rise."
Chadd Gwinn, director of operations and general manager of O.B.'s Real Pit BBQ in McDonough, fries the majority of the turkeys served at the restaurant. As he prepares to put a 13-pound turkey into a deep fryer with grease at 325 degrees, he explains the meticulous process of frying the meat. "You want to cook the bird until it's approximately 160 degrees," says Gwinn. "You don't go [according to] time, but the temperature. You want to use fresh grease, because older grease tends to burn faster.
As the turkey descends into the bubbling grease, where it will remain for 45 minutes, Gwinn says he typically goes through 35-50 of them in a three-day period. For those who plan on cooking one at home for Thanksgiving, he emphasizes precautions which must be observed to ensure safety.
"Most people who fry a turkey at home are going to use an outside deep-fryer," he says. "The biggest thing is to make sure you're in an open area, with nothing around you. You want to line the outside area with cardboard, because the grease is going to pop. Let it cook for 20-25 minutes, before [you] start to handle it again. You're going to need sturdy gloves or big, heavy tongs - something that can withstand the heat."
The Henry County Fire Department reports additional tips from the National Turkey Federation (NTF), which advises against deep-frying turkeys larger than 12 pounds.
The NTF reportedly recommends allowing 24 hours of thawing time in a refrigerator, for every five pounds of bird to be fried. An all-purpose fire extinguisher should also be accessible during the cooking process.
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